How to really grow food in your backyard Here I share with you the secrets that have transformed me from a gardener with a not-very-productive vegie patch, to growing most of my family's fruit and veg.
Traditional Foods My health has dramatically improved after changing my diet for a more traditional way of eating, as advised by Sally Fallon.
Food Flower Poster Forget the food pyramid! It was developed by the agricultural industry, not by nutritionists. Instead, print this Food Flower poster, which shows a visual guide to choosing nutritious and satisfying traditional foods.
Have you read this book? Depletion and Abundance by Sharon Astyk. I ordered it from the net and had no idea what I was getting. Wow was I ever in for a treat! It's amazing. The book is about what we should do and how we should live our lives in the face of dwindling resources and looming climate change.
I was expecting a homestead type of book - how to live without a fridge, that kind of thing. But it's not really a hands on how-to book. It's a big picture book about the choices we make, why, and how we can change ourselves to live in a more ethical way. This is the first book I've read that really looks at the big picture of every aspect of our lifestyle, and Sharon provides highly compelling arguments for the ways in which we need to adjust our thinking and our focus.
The premise of it all is that we should aim to take only our fair share of resources, emit only our fair share of emissions. By doing this we will no longer be stealing from those in developing countries who can't afford to live the way we do, and we will no longer be stealing resources from our children and grandchildren. Instead we should work towards making our slice of the planet the best and most abundant place it should be.
With her description of a day in the life of a household (Sharon and her family) that takes only their fair share, she provides a very convincing picture that not only is it possible, but it could even lead us to a nicer and more satisfying life than the one we have now. Sharon has got me convinced, anyway. I found the book really inspiring, and it's encouraging me to look at things about myself that need work, such as the need to be more generous and learn to share better.
One of the things that really impressed me about the book is that rather than disregarding the kind of work we do to earn a living, when considering our environmental impact, Sharon says we need to look long and hard at the kind of work we do. Is it sustainable? Is it likely to last a long time? Is it fundamentally pointless or is it good work that is helping other people and our planet? (I would rate my brief and long ago time working as a software engineer for Tattersalls and pointless, and my work with The Grimstones as being valuable and important but not even slightly sustainable.) She's got me thinking hard about my work with The Grimstones. There are so many good things about it but I'm also exhausted from all the touring and being on the road so much makes it really hard to maintain the home and garden I want to have. Our chooks have gone to live with my mum and their absence feels like a failure on our part. We'll bring them home after our Sept tour, but it is still a few months without our beloved chooks and the eggs we love so much.
The most important thing we can do for our planet, apparently, is grow our own food, even if it's just a box of sprouts on the windowsill. Every tiny bit counts. I'm thinking of my garden again.... so hard to keep it watered and happy when we spend so much time away. But maybe with a bit more focus I can improve things a bit.
This is a photo of my desk. Isn't it looking gorgeous? I rearranged it so I could fit in the new piece my sister and I made. Now it's got four installation pieces, though the blue book still isn't finished. Since my sister made the papier mache bunnies, I'm thinking maybe a papier mache doll is the answer to my problem for the blue book. Hmm...
On top of the box on the left you can see the doll I originally made for the blue book - but her hair is just way too big and obscures the city. Hanging on the clothesline is a ripped off piece of the blanket my mum made for my cot when I was a baby (yes.. a security blanket - I call it Brown Rug), then there's a papier mache dress that I made, and then Jesse's and my Magic Token. We found it in the park and had such a beautiful game of making magical spells with it - I put it up to remind me of the good times and feeling like I'm a wonderful mama. Then there's the bunny Cal made me. And finally a tiny framed picture of my beloved grandmother, Moo, who died when I was pregnant with Jesse.
I try to keep my desk as a shrine to what's important to me... but of course it doesn't always look like this. Picture it with piles of bills to pay, admin to get to, contracts to sign, orders for books to send off.. and you'll know how it normally looks!
I've been planning to make this piece for over six months now, but I just couldn't find the right dolls, the right boxes, the right anything. My darling friend Jenine gave me a copy of the catalog from Julie Arkell's exhibition, Home, and I was SO INSPIRED I committed again to working out how to do this piece.
I found two dolls I had that were too big for any of the boxes, and decided they would go together. (I needed a doll with weird hair - and I had one that I made ages ago but frankly I think she's ugly, and that was putting me off. I ditched her and focussed instead on a doll that was bald with a weird patch of velcro at the top of her head.) I made the box out of scrap timber I had left over from The Grimstones, and then I was up and running. My sister Cal told me she'd love to do more art with me, so we sat down together to work on this over two separate sessions. I had gathered together everything I needed in a kind of kit, along with a drawing of how it was all to fit together. We worked and gossipped for hours, having the best time. Cal papier-mache'd the box with the paper I had cut out from the book I posted in my previous entry, and she painted the dolls, handing them to me so I could do the faces. She also made the incredible cones of hair for the mama - I love them! I made the rest of the stuff.
As we were winding up, I showed Cal the catalog from Home and she too was incredibly inspired. Immediately she made a tiny bunny, which you can see in the hand of the mama in the box. I am so delighted with the bunny I am absolutely in love!
A few close ups:
Isn't the bunny the most adorable thing you've ever seen? My sister is SO clever!
In case you weren't sure, this piece expresses my experience of choosing to parent in a way that seems to be rather different from the way most people around me are doing it. I might not have gorgeous text cones on my head but I do have dreadlocks and people do find them rather inappropriate for a mother.
I started this art installation back in March. I got a book from the op shop which I cut into to make a hollow. On the page at the back I added gesso and water colour paint to partially obscure the text, and then drew my picture of the city. It's no particular city but you can see buildings from Melbourne in here - note the Victorian Arts Centre! There is supposed to be a doll standing at the front, and I was planning to have a rusted out ruined toy car too. But I'm having trouble finding the right doll and the right car. I got the perfect car but it's really a bit big to fit. I painted a doll from an op shop, but she has too much hair and it covers too much of the picture. But I feel the need to post this any way, even though it's a work in progress. I'll post another photo when I've finally resolved the doll and car problems!
As I mentioned in my previous entry, i can't help but worry about where we are heading. I believe absolutely in the collapse of civilisation. If you search on google for Peak Oil or other similar topics there are all sorts of articles to read about how unsustainably we are living, and how with an economy so utterly dependent on fossil fuels, when they become too expensive, we are going to freak out, big time. Everything I read does seem to make sense... but a part of me wonders if these articles are written by doom and gloom quacks - and gun-toting dudes who can't wait to hide in their cellar with their packs of dehydrated survival food.
What assures me that the collapse of civilisation is so likely though, is a book called The Future Eaters, by Tim Flannery. Without making any projections about what's going to happen to us, he simply describes community after community of human groups who make the same fatal mistakes. It goes like this. Humans head to a new frontier, a new piece of land, perhaps an island, and find it rich with bounty - lush plants, tame animals that are easy to catch and delicious to eat... The person who finds the place goes home to get their people, and then they arrive and populate. With the vast amount of resources available, the people, rather than living carefully and sustainably, invariably go for gluttony. They kill the animals with abandon, eating only the very best bits and wasting the rest. They damage the environment ruthlessly without regard for the future. This is the golden age. It's marvellous. Wonderful things happen in this place of leisure - there is art, music, culture. Then the resources, being unsustainable, begin to dwindle. With the increased difficulty in accessing food/water/shelter, the people begin to fight over what's left. They destroy everything - the art, the culture. They battle hard and ruthlessly. Eventually they die, or they find another island and head there. Sometimes a few people are left, scrounging together a living from the last remaining resources.
Easter Island was a classic case - and it was a special one because rather than relying on fossilised evidence to understand the rise and fall of civilisation, its demise was recorded by explorers who visited first during the golden age, and again not that many years later to find the place completely destroyed. Tim Flannery believes Australia was once a rich and green land, full of exquisite rain forests and enormous mammals. When the Aborigines arrived, like all other groups, they plundered hard, killed all the animals. Without the animals to keep the forest in check, it grew wildly, leading to vicious bushfires. The change in vegetation affected the rainfall, which became sparse. The surviving groups of Aborigines were one of the few groups ever to work out how to then live sustainably on the land. They learnt to keep the fires in check with controlled burning to replace the animals. They learnt to hunt sustainably by having sacred places that humans were forbidden to enter, providing a sanctuary in which animals could live and breed. Now of course, we have gone and ruined it.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that we are in the golden age. Resources ARE dwindling. But what's next? It seems collapse is inevitable. The true questions in my mind are a) when will it happen - how much longer will we live like this? I've read predictions that the collapse could happen any time six months from now to two years from now. But no-one knows for sure, and how could they? And b) how fast will it happen? Some believe once the collapse occurs things spiral out of control incredibly quickly, giving us precious little time to adapt and make new plans. Others believe there's the possibility for a long, slow descent, nice and peaceful.
Tim Flannery's stories of past collapses suggest though it's most unlikely to be peaceful, and I am not banking on that. No - I'm not about to get myself a gun. But I'm constantly tormented by a sense that I need to do something, set some plans in place NOW while it's easy, while we still have the resources to do so, and while money will still buy what we need. And yet, at the same time, it feels quite frankly surreal to be fretting about the collapse of civilisation when no-one around me seems to have even considered the possibility (it's a guaranteed conversation stopper so I've pretty much stopped bringing it up with people I know), and when our lives are so deeply entrenched in this golden age.
Our work involves flying around the globe to do something joyful but not even slightly essential - it would have to be defined as a waste of resources if we are talking in terms of our civilisation collapsing.
And I'm not bored yet with the Jamie Oliver-style-notebook-journal-entry. I'm loving this kind of page.
Paula was watching Jamie At Home last night - she's addicted to Jamie Oliver videos. They never have subtitles so their interest is a bit limited for me, but I was SO excited to see his notebook! Or, as Paula points out, most likely the notebook created for him by his graphic designer. Every time it flashed on the screen I was rapidly downloading details into my brain - how could his notebook look so utterly funky, with such a perfect mix of illustrations and text? I wished MY journal might look like that.
So what was the secret? I noticed details like blackened page edges, smears of dirty colour to make the whole thing look old. A mix of really rough text and some nice headings. Several sweet hand-drawn images and lots of arrows, lists and diagrams. I decided to give it a go. I'm delighted with this page I made. I wish I had an entire art journal filled with page after page that looks like this. But I think that every time I strike on some exciting new style of page. It's exciting until I've filled about three pages that look like that, and then I'm bored and want to move on, and have to wait for the next bit of inspiration to strike.
Anyway, on a different note, the content of this journal page... Paula and I worked on The Grimstones for a good two years without getting paid, and then once we started bringing in some money, that went to paying off everyone who'd helped on the show, and paying back my rather depleted savings. Now at long last that has caught up, and we are no longer living on a desperate shoe string (it got rather tight for a while there).. and we're getting last year's and the year before's income now. It's nice. The bank balance is inching upwards.
But what to do with the money? We could leave it there, spend it slowly as we need to, and let it pay for our expenses for a few years if need. But it doesn't seem very sensible to do that. Savings lose value over time. I know with the economic climate in theory it's a good time to invest, as surely the market will only go up from here. But I feel pretty leery of investment in the corporate world. I can't help but wonder if the economic downturn is not so much temporary but rather the beginning of a much larger collapse that could mean the end of our civilisaion. I know that seems very doom and gloom but resources are finite and we're whipping through them at top speed, reproducing like buggery, and every city in Australia seems poised to run out of water soon, the Middle East is getting low on oil.. you get the picture. With that in mind, an investment portfolio hardly seems a good idea.
So what kind of investment? We haven't got enough to buy property in the city, and I don't really want to get a bush block. Well, it could be good to own a piece of land that has plenty of water, enough space for a cow, lots of fruit trees and vegie gardens, except for that I can't see us moving there for many years, if ever... And yet, I'd kind of like to use the money to set us up in a longer term way so that we can live off the land we have. And hence, we were thinking about how to make our land better. A humungous water tank to make us self-sufficient in water would be wonderful. If we divided up the other house on our land to turn it into two houses, we might be able to set up the community-feeling we are after. And what Paula and I long for most of all is a room each, all of our own, which we don't have in our tiny little house. So this journal page is my dream, my brainstorm.... I don't know if we'll do it (how to find the time and the energy?) but it all seems quite possible.